If you read our interview with Cord Jefferson from a few months ago and have been wondering, hey, what’s a journalist turned award-winning TV writer with a shiny new Warner Bros. deal to do with all that success, the answer is: turn around and open up a new pipeline to bring more writers with journalism backgrounds into the TV industry, in the form of the Susan M. Haas Fellowship.
Launched in partnership with the WGA Foundation, the fellowship will set up two writers with $25,000 and creative support to develop an original pilot. Your mentors for the fellowship will be veteran writers who’ve written for Mad Men, Lost, Parks and Rec, The Good Place, and Watchmen, and at the end of the six months, you’re guaranteed two meetings with reps or development executives. Why aren’t you applying already? (You have until Feb. 21 to do so).
What’s really cool is: You don’t have to have screenwriting experience. You don’t have to be living in LA (or New York!). You don’t even have to have consistent access to a Zoom setup/the internet. The only catch is that you come from a journalism background and don’t have a full-time job — the fellowship is designed, as Cord put it to me over the phone, “for journalists who have hit a wall in the world of journalism.”
If this sounds like you, Cord also emphasized that you truly, really, deeply do not need to have ANY experience writing screenplays, pointing to his own experience and how he felt “as green as a person could get” when he walked into his first writers room. “This idea that TV should only be written by people who worked at The Harvard Lampoon and then started in a comedy writers room and had their lives destined for them from the age of 18?” he added. “That’s not true.”
If the two-person model of the Susan M. Haas Fellowship works out this year, Cord said he hopes to scale the program up in order to continuously bring new writers from underrepresented backgrounds as well as more journalists (whose skill set he insists uniquely suits them for TV writing, whether they know it or not) into TV writing.
It’s a way to pass on the wisdom and kindness extended to him over his own career, Cord explained. He’d been looking for a way to do it formally, outside of doling out advice and tips on his own — but it wasn’t until it came time to decide on the name of the fellowship that the connection to the work of his late mother Susan, who started out as a third grade teacher and retired as a principal, became clear.
“She always taught me that if you gave people attention, kindness, and resources, most people would be able to impress you,” Cord said, noting that today is not only the launch of the Susan M. Haas Fellowship, but also Susan M. Haas’s birthday.